Komal’s story

Refuge. For women and children. Against domestic violence.Komal* was forced to marry her first cousin Pritesh* when she was just 18 and living at home with her parents in Bangladesh. Pritesh was 16 years older than Komal– they’d only met a few times when she was a young girl. Komal was always told to think of him as a brother. She says, “I never expected this kind of thing to happen to me. Not with my father’s background – he had moved to the UK and I thought he lived a completely different life away from these kind of arrangements.” At the time, she was doing her A-levels. Her mother told her she was to be engaged a week before the engagement. Komal was in a state of shock and didn’t want to go through with it.

 

Komal says, “My mother was so angry. Women are supposed to be chaste and obedient. The pressure from my family and the wider community was huge. They said I was setting a bad example for the rest of the girls, giving them courage to have a voice when they didn’t deserve one. According to them, giving a voice to young women would ‘spoil’ them.” Komal’s father eventually told her that she had no choice.

After the engagement, Pritesh and Komal were kept separate for two years. At 34, Pritesh was much older than Komal and she found him intimidating: “I tried to accept my situation – because I had no other option. But I felt like an object. I knew I wanted to study and to live my own life but I also knew that that life was about to be taken away from me. I felt totally hopeless and helpless.”

On the morning of the wedding, Kormal was terrified. When she saw Pritesh waiting for her, she says, “I was suddenly very frightened and felt violently sick; I didn’t want to leave my life behind.”

After they were married, Komal was immediately sent to live with Pritesh’s family in a remote Bangladeshi village, whilst he stayed with other relatives away from home. Watched over by her mother and father-in-law, she was forced to discontinue her education, and expected to do all the housework. Komal was banned from talking to her friends or family, and told that now she had ‘new responsibilities’. Her in-laws were particularly cruel to her – her husband’s father needed constant care and often woke her in the night to do chores.

A few weeks after the ceremony, Pritesh returned home briefly to the family house where Komal was staying, then left for England, showing little interested in continuing the relationship. Shortly after, Pritesh’s mother also left for England, leaving Komal alone with her father-in-law. Komal was left enslaved in the family home whilst expected to wait on him hand and foot. She wanted to escape but had nowhere to turn.

A few months later, Komal’s new husband called her from the UK and ordered her to return home to her parents’ house in a neighbouring Bangladeshi village. When she arrived, her father demanded to know why she wasn’t still living with her new husband. She tried to explain, but her father was concerned about how this failed relationship would affect the honour of the family. Over the coming weeks Komal’s father harassed her about Pritesh. Komal felt “like a football… I felt like I had no control over my own life.”

Eventually, Komal was presented with a plane ticket to England and forced to go and find her husband. When Komal touched down in the UK, she rang Pritesh, only to be sworn at and abused. He was shocked that she’d come to find him, and told her to go back home. After she explained she’d been forced by her father to come and find him, Pritesh called her insane and told her “if you show up here, I will cut your legs off. Go back to your own country.”

28 (R-D-1123)Confused and alone, Komal stayed with some distant relatives in the UK. Back home in Bangladesh, her in-laws visited her own mother and father and threatened to kill Komal again – but her father said must still pursue the relationship. Komal’s husband then contacted her uncle, and told him ominously that he had “lots of friends and neighbours who [would give him] an alibi. If you want her alive, call her back”. When Komal called home crying, frightened of what was going to happen to her, her mother shouted, “I don’t care where you go, you’re not coming back. People won’t know you’re unhappy.”

Still stranded with unfamiliar relatives, Komal then tried to reason with her husband. In response, he started an online hate campaign against her, setting up a social networking page saying that she had been working in prostitution. Komal says, “He sent it to everyone I knew – anything he could have said to bring shame on me, he did. My friends and distant family started hounding me, asking whether it was true.” After this, her family formerly disowned her in a letter.

Komal says, “I wanted to report the threats, but the relatives I was staying with said they didn’t want me to do this – again, it would affect their status within the community. Instead, they gave me the number of the National Domestic Violence Helpline. This team put me in touch with a Refuge service run specifically for South Asian women.”

At the refuge, the specialist team encouraged her to report the harassment and death threats to the police. Komal only had £50 to her name, and was being pushed out by the relatives she was staying with, so the refuge offered her a place to take shelter. Komal felt a sense of relief. She says, “When I stayed with my distant family members I was frightened of hearing a knock on the door, or that someone pulling me out of bed and send me back. I was frightened for my life.”

“My Refuge worker, Chanda* was really nice. She was the first person who told me that what I had experienced wasn’t my fault. The best part was, she didn’t ask the details of what happened. She game me tea and food, and sat with me to check I was OK and had settled in. Everything was about me… for the first time, really.”

The specialist expert team at Refuge spoke a range of languages, including Urdu, Farsi, Sylheti, Hindi and Gujarati, and were able to support women across a number of complex needs. Slowly, Komal began to trust her key worker: “The environment was really ‘light’. I expected it to be really sad, ‘locked up’ place – but everyone was really normal and gentle. Any time I wanted to talk, they were available, but there was no pressure.”

The team at Refuge supported Komal to access support from the police to remove the social media pages and take action against her husband. Chanda supported Komal to secure a new VISA so that she wasn’t relying on her spousal VISA. The team also helped Komal to start volunteering locally and to get back into education.

Komal says, “I was alone in a new country – I thought I was going to end up with broken legs somewhere. The best thing that happened to me is that now I can make my own decisions. This wasn’t possible before – I was blamed for everything. Now I have confidence. There was a point when I wouldn’t have even been able to leave the house to buy milk. But things are so much better now.”

 

Komal accessed one of our specialist South Asian refuge services, which are specially designed to support survivors of so-called ‘honour’-based violence and forced marriage. To read more about our culturally-specific services, click here.

 

*All names and identifying details have been changed to protect individuals involved.